From Winless to Undefeated: How the Detroit Lions Became a Winning Team

Derek TislerContributor ISeptember 29, 2011

From Winless to Undefeated: How the Detroit Lions Became a Winning Team

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    During the 2008 season, a historically bad football team hit rock bottom. The Detroit Lions became the first team in NFL history to lose 16 games in a single season. The whole organization seemed hopeless. It was clear that the general manager, Matt Millen, and the head coach, Rod Marinelli, were not the guys who would lead the Lions to the Super Bowl, the playoffs or even a winning season.

    Just three seasons later, the Detroit Lions are the hottest team in football. They have won seven consecutive regular-season games (longest active streak in the NFL), and they don't show any signs of stopping.

    Here is a look at how the Detroit Lions completely overhauled their team, becoming what many people are saying is the one of the best teams in the league.

Organization Overhaul

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    After the embarrassing 0-16 season, the Detroit Lions organization wasted no time cleaning house in an attempt to revitalize football in Detroit.

    The first step, to the delight of many fans in Michigan, was to fire general manager Matt Millen. From 2001 to 2008, Millen led the Detroit Lions to the worst eight-year record in the history of the modern NFL (31-97). He also was the inspiration for the popular "Fire Millen" chant across Detroit.

    To start the new era of Lions football, Detroit looked to their senior vice president Martin Mayhew. Mayhew spent eight seasons in the NFL as a cornerback and played in Super Bowl XXVI with the Washington Redskins. After retiring from football, he attended Georgetown Law Center. Once hired, Mayhew immediately got to work, trading wide receiver Roy Williams and a seventh-round pick for Dallas' first, third and sixth-round draft picks in the 2009 draft.

    In addition, the Detroit Lions revealed a redesigned logo that appeared more aggressive-looking and detailed than the one they had been using for the past 28 seasons. More importantly, the logo symbolized the start of the new Lions.

Coaching Changes

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    On January 15, 2009, the Detroit Lions hired Jim Schwartz as the head coach. Schwartz spent 10 seasons with the Tennessee Titans, eight as the defensive coordinator, including the 2008 season where the Titans were second in the league in points against and won the AFC South. Schwartz brought a new intensity to the organization with his knowledge of the game and strong desire to win

    Shortly after, the Lions brought in Gunther Cunningham, former defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, and Scott Linehan, former head coach of the St. Louis Rams. The three coaches together brought in much-needed experience and leadership for the developing Detroit Lions team.

2009 Roster Additions

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    The most important reason behind the success the Lions have had so far during the 2011 season is the success of Martin Mayhew during the draft

    In 2009, Detroit used their first overall pick to select a young quarterback from the University of Georgia named Matthew Stafford. During Stafford's senior year in college, he was voted to the All-American team and had one of the best passing seasons in Georgia history, totaling 25 touchdowns and almost 2,500 yards. It became clear that Matt Stafford was the Lions' quarterback for the future, the guy to build a franchise around. 

    In addition to Stafford, the Lions drafted Brandon Pettigrew, an explosive tight end out of Oklahoma State, and Louis Delmas, a top 10 prospect at safety from Western Michigan.

    Despite the major additions, Detroit showed little improvement during the 2009 season, finishing 2-14.

2010 Roster Additions

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    In the 2010 draft, the Detroit Lions selected arguably the most talented player in the draft, Ndamukong Suh. During Suh's time at the University of Nebraska, he became one of the most decorated defensive players in college football history, winning many awards, including the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Lombardi Award and also was the first defensive player in history to win the AP College Football Player of the Year Award. Suh was a guy who everyone knew would make in immediate impact on whichever team he was drafted to, bringing with him unmatched leadership and a strong work ethic.

    In addition to Suh, the Lions drafted the speedy running back out of Cal, Jahvid Best, to add a new dimension to the struggling rushing attack. Detroit also added DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and DT Corey Williams, creating one of the most dominant defensive lines in the NFL.

    During the 2010 season, the Lions were setback by injuries to key players and an inability to finish games. However, to end the season, the Detroit Lions won four straight games to finish with a record of 6-10. Things in Detroit finally seemed to be turning around.

The 2011 Season

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    In 2011, the Detroit Lions continued to build to their young, talented team by drafting DT Nick Fairley to improve an already powerful defensive line, RB Michael Leshoure to complement Jahvid Best and WR Titus Young to add another deadly weapon to Matt Stafford's arsenal. Unfortunately, the Lions were hit hard by injuries once again, forcing Fairley and Leshoure to the sidelines.

    All of these changes in personnel have led to one of the most talented rosters in the NFL.

    The Detroit Lions are 3-0 for the first time since 1980. They have one of the most explosive offenses in the league, averaging almost 34 points per game, and a defense capable of making big plays, thus limiting teams on offense. More importantly, the Lions have learned how to play for four quarters and win games. Only time will tell if this team is for real, but until then, the Lions are certainly giving something for Detroit to believe in.